THA tidbits: Great books promote debate

Learning to read is part of any school curriculum but loving to read is another story. For the past two years, Tucson Hebrew Academy has been using the Great Books Foundation K-12 program from the University of Chicago, an established literature curriculum that promotes outstanding reading choices and shared-inquiry learning techniques.

“Our entire staff took the four-day training,” says Ronnie Sebold, THA director of admissions. “You may ask why science, Hebrew and Judaic studies teachers were involved. It’s because everyone has to be trained in Socratic questioning.”

The Great Books program supports teaching through understanding rather than memorization. Students must back up their views with proof, explains Sebold. “We start in kindergarten when little Moishe and little Sophie learn to disagree without anybody crying.”

By middle school, students read the classics, such as “Frankenstein,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Inherit the Wind,” about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. The latter informs students’ study of genetics in 7th grade science and the Book of Genesis with Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz in Judaic studies, says Sebold.

Jewish learning is all about debate and critical thinking, says Sebold, noting that Rabbi Billy told her “that’s exactly how I learned Talmud in yeshiva.”

One parent, she says, was initially upset when she heard her daughter debate the existence of God with a friend. But Sebold saw that debate as a learning opportunity: “What a beautiful, wonderful thing that Judaism promotes questioning, learning to ask questions,” she says, “ones that make you think further and deeper.”